With the aim to remove disability barriers, the Supreme Court Committee on Accessibility has released questionnaires to collect inputs from disabled stakeholders and disability rights experts. In 2021, the Supreme Court recognised the right to reasonable accommodation as a fundamental right, which includes making necessary adjustments for the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in society.
These questionnaires have been published in furtherance of the committee’s mandate to conduct disability audits. The members of the committee include Dr. Sanjay Jain, a professor from the National Law University, Bengaluru; Shakti Mishra, a differently-abled librarian at the Supreme Court, nominated by the court from among its employees; V. Sridhar Reddy, a differently-abled advocate nominated by the Supreme Court Bar Association; Nilesh Singit, an independent accessibility expert nominated by the Centre for Disability Studies at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad; and Sunil Chauhan, Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court, serving as Secretary.
About the questionnaires
The collected input from the questionnaire will be used to formulate recommendations aimed at removing barriers to access. The first questionnaire has nine categories:
General questions on court accessibility
Questions for those with visual impairment
Questions for those with hearing impairment
Questions for those with locomotor disability
Video conferencing/live proceedings
In the first section, the differently-abled person is supposed to fill in their background information, including on their type of disability and the capacity in which they have an interface with the Supreme Court. This includes subcategories like ‘Lawyer with a disability’, ‘Court journalist with a disability’ and ‘Visitor with a disability’.
In the next sub-category, the differently-abled person has to answer general questions on court accessibility such as whether the Supreme Court’s physical infrastructure, including toilets, is disabled-friendly and what challenges/barriers are there, if any. It also includes a question on the accessibility of parking spots at the Supreme Court’s premises. Interestingly, in the category of video conferencing/live proceedings, there is a question on whether video conferencing should be made mandatory in all cases involving disabled stakeholders.
In the category of special system, there is a question on if a special system for effective access to all facets of a given case should be established.
The second questionnaire is specifically for disability rights experts. It seeks their input on ways in which the Supreme Court can ensure comprehensive and holistic end-to-end accessibility for differently-abled persons.
Reasonable accommodation part of fundamental rights of the disabled
In 2021, the Supreme Court bench of CJI Dr. Chandrachud and Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna, in Vikash Kumar versus Union Public Service Commission & Ors., recognised the principle of reasonable accommodation as a fundamental right under Articles 14 (equality before law), 19 (protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution. Reasonable accommodation is defined in Section 2(y) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 as necessary and appropriate modifications and adjustments to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy their rights equally with others.
The court recognised that the principle captures the positive obligation of the State and private parties to provide additional support to persons with disabilities to facilitate their full and effective participation in society.
It said: “[F]or a person with disability, the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights to equality, the six freedoms and the right to life under Article 21 will ring hollow if they are not given … additional support that helps make these rights real and meaningful for them. Reasonable accommodation is the instrumentality — are an obligation as a society — to enable the disabled to enjoy the constitutional guarantee of equality and non-discrimination”.